21 places that could really do with not being part of Greater London

Happy Valley, near Coulsdon, which really doesn't make me very happy at all. Image: GanMed64/creative commons.

Greater London is a big beast. It’s 606sq miles, and has 32 boroughs and the City of London. The Greater London Authority runs it from City Hall in Southwark, and like all decent cities it has a mayor, Sadiq Khan.

What it also has – which doesn’t seem to fit its proud city status – is a load of random fields, farms, and tiny villages that really don’t need to be there.

There are plenty of perfectly good counties all around the place that could take these chunks of land and do something with them, while real London could get on with its important business of, you know, actually being a city.

Here, in a torrent of unashamed bitterness, are 21 of those places.

1) North Ockenden, Upminster

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

Look at all that green. It’s the wrong side of M25, for a start, and it’s the most easterly and most outlying settlement in Greater London (as rightly measured by distance from Charing Cross). Somebody in 1992 had the bright idea of giving everything east of the M25 to Essex, but a bunch of NIMBYs said no, obviously, and so here we are.

2) Puddledock Farm Fisheries, Upminster

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

These guys run fishing matches on ‘the Snake Lake’ every Sunday, so that’s nice. There are four lakes – including a purpose built competition lake, a specimen lake, and a peg lake. Whatever any of that means. All I’m seeing is a whole lot of green and a whole lot of wrong side of the M25.

3) Fairlop Plain, Barkingside

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

This is Redbridge, so it’s not even one of the hard-core, middle-of-nowhere boroughs, and yet here we are. There’s a tube station right next to a huge load of random green, including (but not limited to) a Country Park, a golf course, a large lake, another golf club, and a whole load of empty fields. Honestly. Three tube stations in one screenshot and a whole load of green. Immoral.

4) Turkey Brook and Clay Hill, Enfield

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Ignoring the Museum of Transport up in the top left – everyone loves a museum of transport – this is just a whole load of green countryside that does not need to be in London.

5) Botany Bay, Enfield Chase

Lovely and green. Image: Christine Matthews/creative commons.

Get back to Sydney where you belong, and stop being so ridiculous, Enfield. It’s about a mile away from the nearest train station, and it has a farm shop. This is not the future liberals want.

6) Trent Park, Enfield

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

If there were a triple lock designed to annoy CityMetric readers as much as the real one annoys the youth, this one has it. It’s in the Green Belt, lies within a conservation area, and also gets a spot in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. This sounds like a lovely place, but it’s just empty fields from here to the M25 and beyond into Hertfordshire, so why not just give them the thing.

7) The road between Totteridge and Highwood Hill

Not London. Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

This stretch of winding road has acres and acres of green space on either side, and has a pretty open path out to the countryside of Hertfordshire. What need for it to be in London?

8) Hill End, Hillingdon

I've always wanted to live in a big city like London. Image: Nigel Cox/creative commons.

Part of a charming park – the Colne Valley Regional Park – that really doesn’t need to be in London, and is a 57-minute trudge away from the nearest train station, Rickmansworth on the Metropolitan line. Or if you want to be in Zone 6, it’s an hour and ten to walk to Northwood. Your choice.

9) Malden Rushett, near Epsom

The long shadow of urbanisation. Image: Nigel Cox/creative commons.

You know that bit where London pokes out to the south west, like an accusatory pointing finger? It’s the Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, and I’d always assumed there was something important there that needed to be included in Greater London. But no. There’s just this village. It even has a sad dribble of a railway line that they started building south of Chessington South station, on the branch line from Motspur Park, before the Green Belt was introduced and they realised that there was no point taking the line any further south. Thanks, Green Belt. You gave us this pointless village on the udder of London.

 

10) Happy Valley & The Devil’s Den, Coulsdon

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

I’m not happy about the fact that this is in the Borough of Croydon when it could just as easily be in Surrey.

 

11) Kings Wood, near Warlingham

Look at the density of that wood. Crazy.

 

12) Addington Hills, Addington

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Swathes and swathes of countryside, green things, and another golf course. What is it with all the golf courses.

 

13) Layhams Farm, Layhams Cattery, and the Metropolitan Police Dog Training Establishment, Bromley

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Not making any of this up.

 

14) Shepherds Shaw, Tatsfield

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

So many fields, so little need to be in the urban area of Greater London.

 

15) Buckhurst, near Biggin Hill

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Most Londoners wouldn’t know what to do with this much green even if you put it in a bag of toasted kale chips and charged four quid for it.

16) Horns Green, Bromley

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

A trio of charming villages here.

17) Berry’s Green, Bromley

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

I know it’s not good to quote from Wikipedia, but the entry here is too good. It's apparently “a fairly wooded rural area with a scattering of farmland”.

18) Downe, Bromley

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

Charles Darwin lived here, and that’s it. That’s literally all they’ve got.

19) Hockenden, near Swanley

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps.

This *hamlet* isn’t even on a bus route.

20) Rainham Marshes

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Drain the swamp, drain the swamp, drain the swamp.

21) Hacton, Havering

Click to expand. Image: Google Maps

Surrounded by the – you guessed it – green belt.


Of course the alternative to chucking all of these places out of Greater London would just be to build some bloody houses on them, but let’s not push the boat out too far. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.